We just went through one of those winter cold snaps that just hurts. The cold air actually hurts your face. The news folks tell you to bring your pets in. The trees crack in half from being frozen, and dubs state wide throw pots of water in the air to make instant snow. On my fourth trip of the day to the chicken coop to swap out the water the thermometer read -20 degrees. I watched the water freeze about half way to the coop. The chickens looked at me with their weird chicken eyes as if to say they heard the weatherman say bring them in. Icicles of snot clung to my beard after my two-minute trip “north of the wall.” I went back into the house, broke off the boogercicles frozen to my beard, looked at my wife and said “why Maine?”
We’ve lived in lovely places like San Diego, Coastal Carolina, Chesapeake Bay Maryland, and Miami, Florida to name a few. We would swim in our pool under the palm trees on Christmas Day and laugh at all the people we knew in the frozen north. One could say in hindsight I’m a damn fool for moving back here. On days that it’s colder than an outhouse seat in the Allagash I can almost agree… almost.
Maine’s a place of freedom. I know New Hampshire jumped on the live free or die marketing genius before Maine did. In reality Maine is equally, or even more free. I can walk out my back door with my rifle and hunt until my heart’s content. I can fish any body of water I can get onto and nobody will tell me I can’t. I have access to thousands and thousands of acres of privately owned land that owners allow others to use. Any fee I pay is minimal and goes to maintaining the dirt roads that go on forever; I just leave it better than I found it. I can go places without cell phone reception, or even roads. It is truly that last free wilderness of the east.
Maine is unique in its makeup. People like to say there are two Maines. I disagree, we’re like 50 Shades of Maine without all the kinky stuff. (Authors note: Mom don’t read the book I just referenced) There are people that have no desire to enjoy the wilds of Maine with a rifle, but hike Katahdin every year. There are people who love the state but never go to places like Jackman, Lubec, or the Allagash. They never venture north of Augusta. Then there are people that would only be caught in Bangor, Augusta, or Portland if it was tourney time. For people from away tourney time is when entire towns shut down to follow their high school basketball teams. It’s a true melting pot. We have people that live off the grid 45 minutes from Portland. We have island communities that rely on the ferry for resupply. There’s one common thread in all of these peoples make up. They will help each other when the chips are down.
I vividly remember my dad plowing the ice with his pick-up truck for us to play pond hockey when we were kids. We’d play until we were so cold we’d have to cut the laces to get our skates off. One day he got a little too close to the shore and in the water he went. It was about 4 feet deep. He climbed out the window, surveyed the situation and knew he needed a dozer. He went to talk to our only neighbor. My dad and our neighbor were two different Mainers. They didn’t, and still don’t share a lot of common ground except they were, and still are good Maine men. The neighbor came over, surveyed the situation, looked at his son and said, “go get that brown bottle with the black label way back under the sink.” After a few hours of chainsaw work, several pulls off the bottle of “ol number 7” and some tugging with the dozer the truck was out. The neighbor went home, my dad got yelled at by my mom, and all was back to normal. There was no offer of money and no request for any, just tipsy neighbors that went on to resume their cold war.
I guess that’s why Maine. Its more than a place. It’s more than the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. It’s more than a buck track in the snow in the big woods. It’s more than lobster dipped in butter. It’s more than a fly rod and a native brook or a coastal striped bass.
It’s also more than the people. More than the junk collecting guy down the road that can help you out in a pinch when you need a part for your mower. It’s more than the vibrant entertainers and artists in Portland and other coastal towns. It’s more than the town meetings where selectmen and women can’t do anything right, but nobody want’s their job. It’s more than the old veteran that lives down the long dirt road and wants to be left alone. It’s more than the manufacturing and innovation. It’s more than the Guides that take so much joy from others experiencing the woods and waters.
I guess that’s why Maine, and why me.